“When we understand where we are from, we can find beauty in ourselves.”
Words: Sanj Patel
Hey ADIV! How are you?
I’m good, all things bearing.
How has 2020 been for you?
Overall it’s been a pretty good year for me, shockingly. I went through the phase of “my life is over” and “my careers over ” to where we are at a point where artists and creative’s and creative people are just hunkering down and really have time to tap into who we really are as artists. For me in that aspect it has been amazing, I’ve been able to really focus on what I want to present to the world as an artist. Honestly, without the time we’ve had to be home and not do anything I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. So overall, a pretty good year.
Let’s jump right in! Some may know you for your work with Bridget Kelly, SZA, BOSCO. But can you tell me a little more about yourself?
Sure. I’m from New York, a songwriter by trade and artist by heart. As a songwriter, I’ve been making music for the past ten years and artistry is something that I have always had inside me and something that I wanted to do. The road to here wasn’t an easy one, it was a very long and tedious one but a very rewarding one at the same time.
If I was to describe who I was, it would be a boy from New York following his dreams and becoming an artist.
Talk to me about your musical background. You were brought up in New York..
I’m from New York, I grew up in the church as most artists do. My family is a very musical family, I grew up singing in church from the age of five or six. My mother sings, my dad sings, my brother’s play the instruments, my uncle is also the pastor of the church. It was one of those family affair types of things where I didn’t have a choice, but I ended up loving it.
At the age of 16, I joined the New York Conservatory for classical music. So I am classically trained, I can read classical music and that helped me understand the full scope of music. I think that balance made me want to create music, I always approach music and I hear it and I break it down into the feel or it. So that pushed me into writing, when I went to college I just started writing music all the time. I had a composition notebook that I used to write in all the time. I used to go to school Boston and North Eastern and I used to get the train down to New York once a month to work with a producer who was just starting out.
Would you say your musical background has had an impact on the music you produce?
Yes and I’m kind of hesitant to say yes, only because so many black artists – when you grow up in the church – have this hovering thing over you where you sing and approach music in a certain way. For me, it’s been the opposite of that. I’ve tried my hardest to break away from those stereotypical sounds of churching and riffing and oversinging. So trying to break away from that, plus being inspired by Jazz; alternative R&B; bluegrass; rock, they’re all the things that I love. I think that growing up in a church gave me such a good foundation of music and the feeling of the music.
The classically trained part of me helps me perform, execute and sing better. So if I wanted to have a holistic approach to everything, yes the church has impacted the kind of music I make and absolutely being classically trained has helped me as a musician.
How would you describe your music style in three words?
That’s a tough one! Soothing, emotional and I don’t want to say sad, but I want to say sad!
So we are here to talk about your newest work, “Blue Gene” and “Time” What were the influences for this?
The entire project is about topics that men, especially black men don’t open up about. The first single “Blue Gene” is about being sad and not knowing why you are sad. The title of the project is called “Life could be Different” and all the songs discuss topics that we as black men, gay people and trans people don’t usually open up about. My music speaks to that emotional, touching, soothing kind of “I can vibe with you” but also “we’re driving down a sunset along the pacific highway in L.A” It feels good, but when you hear the lyrics it’s like “oh damn!”
“Blue Gene” is an interesting one, one day I was out with my cousin – drunk – and we got into an argument. He got really crazy and in the middle of the argument he started crying, I said “what’s wrong with you” and was like “I’m just sad and I don’t know why I am sad.” That sparked a whole thought process in me about how many other men are just walking around sad or not able to express how they feel. I was just walking down the street one day and the lyrics came to my head.
With “Time” it is the same concept, so the first line ‘feeling out of salvation/ how I was raised’ that’s me growing up in the church and being taught these norms, values and beliefs that I am not necessarily in line within my adult life and how so many people are taught things and socialised to believe certain things about other humans that we should unlearn.
How long did it take?
“Blue Gene” started a year and a half ago, the song is almost two years old. The project I spent a better half of a year making and creating and then 4/5 months editing. This wasn’t a small feat, not something that I woke up one day and thought “oh I’m going to be an artist” It was a tough decision but at the same time I just felt it was my time to share my art with the world, especially because the message behind the music is something that I feel we need to hear, something people can relate too.
Do you have a particular line that resonates with you?
‘Feeling out of salvation/ How I have raised’ the first line in Time.
You worked with Breyonna Holt on the visuals. What was that like?
Amazing! She has an exquisite eye. I had seen her work on Instagram last year and just aesthetically and visually she captures black people in this gorgeous way and her edits are gorgeous. One of the biggest things that I want to do with my music – the whole album is a visual album – but I really want to tap into different themes of what it means to be black, not just in an urban landscape, not just rap music, not just booty shaking, even though that is a part of it. So when I shared my vision with her it was seamless. I’m a control freak and was worried that I had to do everything but I had absolute faith in her and it just feels so good when you find someone that shares a similar vision.
I want to talk more about your creative direction for this. With your references to Nigeria would you say heritage is important to you?
I’m not Nigerian but some of my best friends are Nigerian – I’ve been to Lagos to a couple of times. I’ve done my DNA and most people from the area are some form of West African but I have a lot of it – I’m 55% Nigerian, but the hat that I used is from one of my best friends – he started a company – and I wanted to just showcase an element of where I am actually from. A big part of my message and even when I share online is that I want the African community to come together and understand where we are from. When we understand where we are from, we can find beauty in ourselves and that’s the power!
The western theme, I am continuously learning about black history worldwide, and I didn’t know that in America that the first cowboys were black, let me incorporate that.
You also have a political science degree – did you ever imagine to be in the position that you are?
Oh god, no! Only because I had such a clear cut path to success in my mind, as one does when they graduate from Uni. I also have a masters in finance, so it was like “I’m going to be an investment banker and I’m going to get a promotion” and obviously none of that happened because the world has changed drastically – in terms of what our college degree means and what success means – but I am absolutely in love with the person that I am now and the fact that yes, I am an artist and I want to share my art and music with the world but in the same breath I am a spokesperson for being black and understanding heritage and loving your neighbour and loving everyone and treating everyone the same. I never thought I’d be that person.
I bet you have a lot of career highlights, what’s the best one?
This year I got my first platform record, which was a big one! Especially in 2020.
Who is your favourite person you have worked with?
Experience wise, Britney Spears. I worked with her on the Circus album, a couple of songs didn’t make the album but that was the first big artist experience and it showed me what this world could be about.
& who do you want to work with in the future?
Two of my favourite people, James Faunteroy and Lionel Richie.
Let’s also talk about fashion! How would you describe your style?
A caribbean dad meets high fashion.
Who are your main influences?
It sounds so cliché but my Dad and my uncle’s. Every time I visit them I’m like “I love what you’ve got on but I can make it better” Most of my style is from my father and uncles. They love sandals, model tone clothing, khakis and I love it and just try to turn it up a notch.
I love that! Would you say your Dad is your biggest style inspo?
Oh god! You cannot tell my dad, he isn’t the finest man in the world ha! He irons his underwear, he’s crazy! Imagine growing up with that! I found that once I became an adult, I resonated with a lot of the things that he wore.
Are there any particular trends/ styles that you are enjoying?
The whole western thing, but I wanted to do the western thing forever! I do appreciate the ability of black people to tap into different themes. I’m really loving it!
If you could have anyone’s wardrobe, who would it be and why?
I would go with Pharrell, he gives me rich uncle vibes on a yacht in Saint Tropez but I still don’t care about that kind of vibe.
Who is your fave designer at the moment?
What does a day-to-day outfit for you look like?
Oh god, guess what I’m in now, I’m in a bucket hat, adidas track pants, a t-shirt and denim jacket!
You’re dressed a lot better than me! 2 more questions now, what do you do to PAUSE and unwind?
I actually read! I’m a bit of a nerd. I love to read articles and be in the know, social and political reading really calms me.
And what are the future plans for you?
For now, focus on the next two visual’s and my album coming out. Long term, to continue to make music and share the art and tap into disciplines of art. Maybe do an installation or gallery to share my visuals? It’s not just going to be the music for me; it’s definitely going to be a multidisciplinary artist that you guys will see over the next year or so.